Penybont and District Local History Group November 2016 Main Topic: History of Postal Services – Derek Turner

 

Geraint opened the meeting to another packed house to remind members of our next meeting which will be held at Penybont Hall. Richard Morgan has invited us and they will provide coffee for a 10.30 a.m. start. In a addition to a tour of the Hall we will try to cover ‘Extreme Weather Conditions’ – Please bring any photos or memories.

Also in the agenda is the Video evening in the Community Hall on Tuesday 15th November. There will be a £3 charge to cover costs. There will be 3 videos: 1990 Races; 1990 Fatstock Sale; 1990 Opening of the Community Centre.

Geraint, Mary and Derek will be meeting on Friday when they will try to bring together a programme for next year. Ideas and offers to take on a session would be more than welcome.

Jennifer brought to the attention of members a Radnorshire Society Meeting on Sat at 5.00 p.m. in the Metropole on the life and artistry of Thomas Jones of Pencerrig.

David gave a short introduction the work of the Repair Café that will this Saturday 12th where items that might need repairing will hopefully be fixed. Volunteers ‘experts’ are on hand to help with a wide variety of items. It is held at the Celf building on the way into Llandrindod. They also act as a collection site for ‘Tools for Self- Reliance’. Tools that are useful to the 3rd World are repaired and passed on to the countries that can make the best use of them. Tools that are not needed are sold to raise funds to keep the Charity running.

Jane also mentioned that the Peace Choir at the Pales will be giving a recital to celebrate their 7th birthday on Saturday 19th November at 3.30 p.m.

Geraint reminded members that it is Remembrance Sunday this coming Sunday and that a service will be held at the War Memorial at 10.00 a.m. The Hall Social Committee has very kindly lain on refreshments in the Hall for after the service.

Main Topic – History of the Post Office in the Area – Derek

National Developments

Derek started by recognising that there were people in the room who knew more about the Post Office than he would ever know. He is hoping that members will contribute to the talk and add to our collective knowledge.

The Royal Mail Heritage website has an excellent Timeline that guides own through the history from its inception as a service that was initially established to serve the King’s needs.

http://royalmailheritage.com/main.php

At that time it was King Henry VIII. Brian Tuke was appointed ‘Master if the Posts’ in 1512 and in 1517 he became ‘Governor of the Kind’s Post’. http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.72.html

In 1533 he made a pronouncement on behalf of the King that would underpin the importance of the service for generations to come. “In pain of life” the service was to be at a state of readiness to convey the mail expeditiously from town to town. Horses would be ready but of course this was not the only problem. Roads at this time were often not more than muddy tracks and subject to the vagaries of the weather.

It did however prove to be a successful venture and in 1635, in the reign of Charles1, Thomas Witherings built on the work of Brian Tuke and established the first Public Postal Service. The first ‘post house’ was created in London in 1637, and by 1637 John Taylor published his ‘Carriers Cosmography’. This gave details of the postal buildings, ships and other facilities that were already in place in England, Scotland, Ireland, and even the Netherlands. The first mention of Wales is also included:

“The Carriers of Monmouth in Wales, and some parts of Monmouthshire; do lodge at the Saint Paul’s Head in Carter Lane. They do come to London on Fridays.”

The postal services evolved gradually over the years that followed and despite Civil Wars it became a Unified Service across England, Scotland and Wales, but it would be over 100 years before Penybont would see a service in the village. The first major reorganisation of the postal service took place at about the time Penybont was ready and able to open its doors, with horses at the ready. In 1782 a Theatre Proprietor from Bath, John Palmer, who had developed a system for moving theatre sets between different towns thought that he could radically change the method of managing the mail across the country. Up to this time the mail was taken by horse or cart across the country from town to town. At each stop the Postmaster would sort out their mail and it would be then sent on to the next postal town where the process would be repeated. Palmer introduced a system whereby the mail was pre-sorted and simply dropped off at post towns while the horses were changed. This change reduced the time that mail was taking to be delivered by up to a third. It in addition improved the relationship between the travelling public and the postal services as the carriages more practically carried passengers as well as the mail much more efficiently.

The safety of the mail on these hazardous journeys across country was of paramount importance. The Mail Coach Guard would sit alongside the driver with a duty to see the mail through. He would be heavily armed with two pistils and a blunderbuss to see off Highwaymen. He would sound his horn to give advance warning in the Post Towns that horses needed to be got ready for the onward journey, and most importantly when the coach was approaching the Turnpikes Gates. Stopping the coaches at these points could leave the mail vulnerable so the horn would be sounded to ensure that the gates were opened to allow the coaches through. Mail coaches were exempt from toll charges. The coaches must have been quite a sight going through the countryside but they could cause quite a bit of excitement in the towns. Sadie Cole in the Radnorshire Transactions of 2002 describes the scene in 1835 in Kington:

“Hours before the coach arrived for the first time on a Friday evening in May the streets were crowded and when at last the sound of the horn was heard in the distance children shrilled with delight. When the horses were detached at the Oxford Arms a group of brawny young men surged forward and hauled the coach to the Swan Coach Office to rapturous applause of the on-lookers.”

 

The bravery of the Mail Coach Guards was quickly recognised and volunteers from amongst their members were recruited into the Army. A specific regiment was established: Post Office Riffles 1816 – 1921. When they were disbanded they became the backbone of the Territorial Army in its early days.

The next century saw the Post Office develop into the multi-faceted organisation that was eventually broken up in the second half of the twentieth century. Letter Carriers were given a uniform in 1793 as a way of ensuring that they did not loiter, frequent ale-houses, and interrupt the speedy delivery of the mail.

Payment for postal services was originally a tax on those people who received the post. This could vary depending on the route taken. The earliest service to Aberystwyth from London came via Montgomery but this was a 11d as opposed to the service that subsequently came via Kington and Penybont which was just 10d. In 1839 a uniform postage system was introduced based upon a penny rate. The following year the postal service took a major advance when Rowland Hill developed the first adhesive stamp – the penny black. In that year, 1840, 68 million stamps were purchased.

With the onus now on the sender to pay for postal services the introduction of pillar boxes in 1852 made the process much simpler and more efficient. The history of pillar boxes can be seen at: http://www.royalmailgroup.com/sites/default/files/Royal%20Mail%20Post%20Boxes%20Heritage%20Agreement.pdf

The first sign of the Post Office services to come started with the Post Office Savings Bank where people were encouraged to save money in postal towns where there were few banks as yet. This was followed closely by an increase in personnel when three cats were recruited, on probation, to seek out mice in the Money Order Office. A budget of 1 shilling a week was put aside for this purpose.

Adjusting to technological advances the Post Office Telegraph service was established in 1870; Postal Orders were introduced in 1881 to support poor families who had no way of sending the small amounts of money that banks would not deal with; a parcel post in 1907; and the separate private phone services were brought together and nationalised at a cost of £12,515,264, as the National Phone Service, in 1912.

Penybont Postal Services

During this period of development the postal service in Penybont was initially catching up with the national picture, and more latterly running as part of a developed service.

There are suggestions that Penybont may have become a Postal Town as early as 1767 when John Price, of Thomas Shop and Penybont Hall fame, was asked by the newly formed Radnorshire Turnpike Trust to survey the road between New Radnor and Clewedog. The Turnpike Trusts were established to improve that state of the roads, as these roads, as we have seen, were extremely important to the smooth transfer of post between towns. It is probably unlikely that postal status was given to Penybont, or as in those days Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion, before Aberystwyth, which was given this status in 1769. The earliest date known that confirms that this status has been given to the village is 1784. (Welsh Post Towns – MA Scott) At that time the cost of mail to London was 4d with the mail being brought on horseback to the New Inn/Fleece Inn, owned by John Price, which was then on the other side of the river to the current Inn.

Mr D Davies is referred to as Postmaster and Innkeeper of the Fleece Inn at Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion in 1807. (The Squires of Penybont Hall – RCB Oliver) This association between Postmaster and Innkeeper at the Golden Fleece/Fleece/Severn Arms would endure until 1891. By the time J. Griffiths came into these titles (1818) the name of the Inn had changed to the Severn Arms (1814) and we begin to read of the village of Penybont rather than the older name Pont Rhyd-y-Cleifion. Roads had been improved by the Turnpike Trustees and Post coaches arrived at Severn Arms at 11.a.m., to depart again with new horses at noon, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

By 1828 Mr Parton is Postmaster at the Severn Arms, still on the same site. JT Llewellyn Pritchard’s Cambria Balnea reports

“A ride or drive due north, and afterwards inclining easterly, for four miles leads to what may be considered a miracle in this district – a genteel village; for such Pen-y-bont most assuredly is, although on a confined scale. Through it runs the London Road, rendered lively by the daily passing of coaches; and across it, the River Ithon, remarkable for its picturesque meanderings, and the excellence of its numerous scaly inhabitants ……….. Looking suddenly to the right we are agreeably struck with a pleasing sight, the truly elegant mansion of JC Severn, Esq. ………. Lower down, on the left hand side of the road stands the Severn Arms Inn, and Post Office, a superior looking tenement, where the coaches change horses. It is kept by Mr. Parton, who by his attention, civility, and good accommodation gives the best assurance that he merits the good success of his business.”

The next Postmaster came in 1832 and oversaw a period of rapid change. In 1835 the Mail Coach would be introduced as a daily service between Kington and Aberystwyth, and in 1840 the Severn Arms moved to its current site on the other side of the River Ithon. Mr Stephens placed an advert in the Hereford Journal referring to;

“Post chaises, Flys and Gigs supplied on the shortest notice with steady horses and careful drivers. The London Mail daily via Cheltenham; also Sovereign Post Coach via Worcester, where it meets coaches the same evening for the Birmingham railway.”

The Sovereign Coach was a seasonal service and did not operate through the winter months. Postal charges at this time had risen to 10d. This period was not without its controversy however, Sadie Cole, as referred to above, recounts the concerns raised by Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Lewis, who lived at Harpton Court, New Radnor, to the Government Officer responsible for contracts relating to the horses. In a letter written on the 7th January 1835 he reported the contractor as being unfit as the service did not run with any degree of regularity and only at the whim of the operator when he might simply send a horse rather than the cart he was supposed to. The operator who was from Rhayader was in very derogatory terms described as a ‘Welsh Speaker’ as though that explained his lack of responsibility. So incensed was the MP that he wrote again one day later a reported that the operator was known to be a drunkard, ran his horses out of control, he did not treat the mail with any degree of security, and that he suffered from the ‘sin of the lower classes’. The operator lost the contract.

Two years later  on 22nd June 1837  in the Parliamentary Select Committee Papers the Rt Hon TF Lewis reported his concerns about the state of the roads in Radnorshire, the limitations on the capacity of the Turnpike Trust to raise sufficient revenue, and on the very high charges on rural businessmen in traveling from New Radnor to Hereford:

“As far as I know and believe, no money has been raised in the County of Radnor under the Highway Act. The reason I conceive to be this, all important lines of road are included in the Turnpike Act; there are no by-roads sufficiently important to make people think it worthwhile to raise money for the purpose of repairing them, and we are prevented by a clause in the Highway Act from laying out the parish money on turnpike-roads, which are the only roads of any great or essential use to us.

Would it be possible, by raising the tolls to provide money sufficient to repair the turnpike-roads, so as to prevent the necessity of calling upon the parishes for any additional assistance? – The tolls are already extremely high; we pay 6d on every horse drawing, and 1½d on every horse ridden; it should be remembered that many of our horses are very small, and draw but little weight. In the rugged roads of our mountainous districts, broad wheels cannot well be used, and in these districts narrow-wheeled waggons are in general use…. My residence is 24 mile from Hereford; a waggon with five horses, would pay 12s 6d toll for travelling that distance; ……. my persuasion, therefore, is, that the tolls are already such in amount, that it would be of serious injury to the commerce of the county to increase them……

What would be the effect of postponing this Act to another Session? – We have already been 2 years in Radnorshire without means of applying any money to the roads, which, as I have already described, are the most important roads in the County; they are already very much gone out of repair, and I apprehend, if we are left for a third year in the position in which we have been placed for the last two years, that the mail-coach which has been established between London and Aberystwyth, in Cardiganshire, and for the establishment of which a private subscription exceeding 600l. has been already subscribed and expended, must cease to go; I verily believe that the road could not be kept another year in such condition as to enable this coach to pass during the winter; and that, I am informed, would be deemed a most serious injury to Cardiganshire, Radnorshire and Herefordshire.”

The next major change to the services provided by Penybont occurred with the coming of the trains in 1864. As the mail started to arrive on the trains and the role of the Postmaster became incompatible with that of the Severn Arms. In 1891 the Post Office opened and mail was sorted into rounds and delivered to the people of the locality.

Penybont Post Office as a Sorting Office continued until 1950 when the responsibility for managing the service moved to Llandrindod and Penybont became a Sub-Post Office.

  •                   Mr and Mrs William Boulter

1926 – 1941                 Mr and Mrs Edward Bufton

1941 – 1954                 Mr and Mrs A.N. Edwards

1954 – 1965                 Mr Stan and Mrs Millie Price

1965 – 1999                 Mr Ray and Mrs Sylvia Price

& Lynda Price

1999 – 2003                 Mr Ian and Mrs Sandra Langstaff

2003 – 2004                  Mr Peter and Mrs Amanda Jones

Derek had interviewed Ray Price and the following are the notes taken from that meeting. There is more information about Ray and Sylvia’s time at the Post Office in Rev Geraint Hughes – Penybont, A Village History.

Ray and Sylvia Price – Penybont Post Office 1965 – 1999

Ray was born in Llanddewi but moved with his family to Ludlow on Penybont Common very early in life. He married Sylvia in 1963. Sylvia was at that time working for Radnor District Council and had a good steady job. Ray by contrast had been a versatile agricultural worker who, like the agricultural workers described by Shirley in our last meeting, could turn his hand to most things. While he had plenty of work, on top of his small-holding at Ludlow, he did not have the stable income that a young man with responsibilities might aspire to, so when Dillwyn Powell, who was then manager for Fosters the Seed Merchants where Ray’s brother Ken worked, offered him a job as a driver he took the job, albeit he had never had a driving job before.

Having to walk past the Post Office every day he became aware quite early on that Stan and Millie Price wanted to retire. They had come to Penybont, from Builth, a few years earlier to take on the Post Office as a sort of retirement ‘hobby’, but they now needed to move on. This attracted Ray and after convincing himself that this was a serious opportunity he put it to Sylvia that they should buy the Post Office. Initially Sylvia thought he was mad, however Ray remained convinced, and they continued to talk about it, and eventually Sylvia came round to the idea, mainly because their respective work commitments meant that they were able to spend very little time together.

Ray made an offer based on what he thought he and Sylvia could afford but Stan turned it down as he had had a better offer. It was Gwynn Hughes the Manager at the Bank in Penybont that made all the difference. He looked at Ray’s resources and gave him a figure and told him that he must not go higher. So when Stan asked Ray if he was still interested Ray was able to tell him exactly what he could afford and a deal was struck there and then over a hand-shake. A few steps away was the bank and Ray was able to confirm the deal with Gwynn Hughes and he and Sylvia became proud owners of the Post Office. Sylvia became the Sub-Postmistress and for a few years Ray continued to work for Fosters until he sold Ludlow. During this time Dillwyn was a great help to Ray as he helped him to manage the transition from Small-holder/Driver to being full-time, and working alongside Sylvia in the Post Office.

Running a Post Office was not a soft option. They worked very long hours in the Post Office (initially from 7.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m. and then later from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 a.m.) and then had a considerable amount of administration and stock control to attend to. Ray describes it as ‘hard’ but clearly he and Sylvia quickly developed a close bond with the community they both grew up with, and they enjoyed the contact with the people they knew and loved. Lynda was born in 1967 and it was not too long before she became an important part of the staff team.

From the beginning they felt supported by the community and they took their opportunities to go the extra mile. Geraint told a story last month of how Ray and Sylvia had an ‘emergency’ request for Epsom salts, as a farmer had a cow that had a swelling that made it seem the animal might ‘explode’. They were able to find in stock the Epsom salts that saved the day and the cow. The farmer concerned was a regular customer for years and years after that. This exemplifies their approach to the business. They were there to provide a service, and because people recognised this, the business prospered.

Another example of this and how to turn adversity into service provision, and hence profit, was during the ‘great’ snow storm of 1981.  In those days they got their bread from Hereford.  It was a Friday and he had about 30 to 40 bread orders to fulfil and the bread delivery van had got to the Forest Inn and could not move in any direction. The week-end was a challenge for everyone and they even closed the Post Office on the Saturday morning. During Sunday the road  via Witton was unblocked and Ray set off for the Forest Inn on the Monday morning. Getting there Ray decided to take not just his own order but as much of the bread in the delivery van as he could fit in. Returning to the Post Office, not only was he able to meet the needs of all his regular customers but he was sold our very quickly. Ray ws then to to get a delivery from Oswestry, but when the van arrived the driver explained that he had been unable to deliver to other shops including Dolau and he had a full van. Ray decided to take all that he had, and once again he was sold out very quickly, and he gained customers long term who were so grateful that Ray and Sylvia kept their shop open.

Then there was the year of the ‘great sugar shortage’. A van driver arrived at the Post Office with an order for Mr Jones! Ray had been expecting an order for 40 parcels so he assumed the order was for him and they simply had the name wrong. So he took the order! The next day another driver arrived with the 40 parcels of sugar for the Post Office. By this stage there was no sugar to be had anywhere and Ray had 80 parcels of sugar. Well it was bonanza time. People came from everywhere to buy sugar. They were soon sold out. A gentleman from Llanbister  bought some sugar and was so pleased he placed his order with Ray and Sylvia every week.

As part of a side line to the Post Office Ray has developed a particular interest in old postcards. Sylvia and Ray had previously developed within the Post Office a set of post cards with scenes in and around the village. He told me of a remarkable story that involved Richard Davies. Many years ago Richard visited Penybont with Mary and while he was there he bought from the Post Office a postcard to send to his grandmother in West Wales. The completed card was franked in Penybont and duly sent. Many, many years later Ray received from a friend in London who was also a ‘collector’ a card that had a Penybont frank on it. The card was the very same card that Richard had sent to his grandmother. Ray has been able to return the card to Richard.

Ray referred to the range of businesses in the village, other than the farming community, that all had a connection with the Post Office. There was an Ironmonger (in Glen Ellen); the Blacksmith with Tom Price and his father before him; Tom ‘Cash’ Stephens sweet shop, in Suzanna’s House; a Sadler behind the Post Office; Midland Bank; Market; Severn Arms; Police Station; 2 houses did Teas including Brynithon; and Fosters the Seed Merchants.

Fosters was a significant business in the village, having been for a time in the wooden building at the Thomas Shop it moved to the yard where the Council depot is today. There were 8 people working in the yard, they had three lorries taking orders out, three Reps were based at the yard. The business was very busy covering over to Aberystwyth and Leominster.

Ray would say that the secret of their success at the Post Office, over and above hard work, was proving a service to the local community and having a trusting relationship with his customers. He is rightly proud that when they left the Post Office all those people who had ‘accounts’ with him cleared their debts. He did almost however run into difficulty with the Post Office by extending his service beyond the official times of opening to accommodate a group of people who wanted to manage their football coupons as a syndicate and came in very early to get them sent off. While he was in the middle of helping them the Postmaster from Llandrindod came into the Post Office. Fortunately he turned a ‘blind eye’ and nothing was said. It was considered quite a serious breach to open out of hours in those days.

After the Post Office closed in 2004 an attempt was made to open a facility within the Thomas Shop Museum in 2005. A connection was made by the Post Office managers with Sarah Mason who ran the Post Office in Newbridge and they administered a service for a short time. The Opening was attended by Kirsty Williams AM and a limited service was provided over the next year.

Llandegley Post Office

Derek admitted that he had not managed to find out any information that was not already in Geraint’s Book. A Post Office operated in Llandegley, out of Primrose Cottage, from 1817. In 1871 Evan Evans ws the Postmaster and working for him was a Post Messenger – Charles Jenkins. When Penybont became the Sorting Office there is only John Evans, described as Postman, working out of Primrose Cottage.

Derek hoped that the members present could add to what is already known.

Crossgates Post Office

Derek confessed that he had been unable to find any information in what has been an important service in the area and he hoped that information would be forthcoming now that he had finished his presentation.

Geraint thanked Derek for the presentation and for illustrating our local service within the development of the national picture, and the floor was opened for members to contribute.

A story emerged in relation to Mr and Mrs Edward Bufton, Mrs Bufton, Auntie Beatty was a teacher at Llanddewi School but it was their Cob that was remembered with by several members. Maureen was aware that Mr Bufton was important in the Trotting scene and had become important in this sphere from 1921. The Cob was appropriately called ‘Post Boy’ and Mary had remembered him as a source of great envy. The family had moved to Sunnyside on the Common and the Post Boy would bring the children of the household into the village and to the shop. Mary would have loved to be one of these highly privileged children.

Mr Edwards, in addition to taking on the Post Office was also a coal merchant. Mary remembers some concern that the Post Office was now selling groceries and provided some competition to the Thomas Shop.

Stan and Millie Price had a reputation for serving the children sweets and 5 Woodbine would be a common purchase.

In the last few minutes a number of references were made that need to be followed up that mainly related to Crossgates:

Una’s Mother-in-law

Trewern Villa

Frankie Jones and Ted – the Waltons

Millie and Edgar Morgan

There was a reference to the van in the photo taken outside the Crossgates Post Office – Bread being delivered from Henry Quarterman Coates from Llandrindod

Tony and Lynne Eckleston were at Crossgates. Tony is now living in Howey.

Lynne and Rod Hill also at Crossgates

There was a memory of Mr Edwards at the Post Office in Penybont supplying ‘black market’ sweets that were meant to be on ration.

Geraint reminded us of the range of things that have been lost in recent history:

  • Blacksmith
  • Cattle and sheep market
  • Tennis Courts
  • Water Mills
  • The Station that serviced the engines on their way through
  • Police Station and cells
  • Friendly Society (In its day the largest in the whole area
  • The Post Office itself was more than just a facility, it was a social centre and meeting place

David is living in the ‘Old Post Office’ in Llanbister. There is clearly a long history associated with this facility. He would welcome any information and anecdotes associated with the Post Office.

Geraint mentioned that there was a problem for pensioners similar to the trouble we all have with pin numbers and passwords. In Penybont the problem was resolved by having a list of all the Pension Pin Numbers pinned to the wall behind the counter!

In another memory of Steve the Postman who would pick up mail along his route and if someone had no stamps he would take them anyway and stamp the letters himself.

John A., who was unfortunately not with us to add to the memories, had previously told us of how the Christmas mail was delivered on Christmas Day. He was challenged to get through his round as he was invited in to enjoy the ‘hospitality’ of each home.

The next meeting will be at Penybont Hall at 10.30 a.m. on the 5th December. A new programme for next year will be sent out as soon as possible.

 

 

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